Linebacker Devon Kennard dabbled as a pass rusher his first four seasons in New York with the Giants before hitting free agency and signing with the Lions last offseason as an unrestricted free agent.
The Lions had a very specific role for Kennard in mind when targeting him in free agency, and his signing, along with that of fellow veteran Christian Jones, was an attempt by the Lions to get bigger, more physical and more versatile at the linebacker position for head coach Matt Patricia’s defense.
That has continued into this offseason as Detroit drafted linebacker Jahlani Tavai in the second round.
Kennard produced a career-high 7.0 sacks in 2018, which was the most by a Lions linebacker since Michael Cofer had 10.0 in 1990.
“My focus is team oriented,” he said. “I want to help the team win and whatever role they put me in, whatever they are asking me to do, I want to excel to the best of my ability. That’s what I’m focused on.”
“Obviously, if that means more sacks, I’m definitely welcome to that.
“It’s kind of trying to take the next step and learn as we go back and install things trying to pick up on more of the defense. The little details that we might have missed last year (in the initial install), just trying to get better every day that way.”
Kennard’s been a mainstay on the Lions’ first-team defensive front this spring. His ability to rush the passer and set the edge in the run game is a valuable skillset at the outside linebacker spot. He says he’s much more comfortable in that role heading into year two, and he spent a lot of time this offseason on the pass-rushing part of his responsibilities to try and take that part of his game to the next level.
His seven sacks ranked 33rd among the league’s edge defenders last season and his 22 quarterback hurries were 47th, per Pro Football Focus Statistics.
He was, however, one of just eight linebackers last season to produce at least 45 tackles, 7.0 sacks and nine tackles for loss.
Kennard says a better understanding of the defense, his role in it, and the roles of the players around him, should allow him to better take advantage of his pass-rush opportunities.
He says this time of year is critical in that regard. This is the time where players can focus in on the playbook, their fundamentals and grow individually as players. There’s some time for that in training camp, but oftentimes it gets overlooked by the competition element of camp, the install of schemes, and game planning. The players that take advantage of the time now to better themselves as individuals are typically the ones that hit the ground running come camp.
Kennard’s a big believer in that. He’s preached it to anyone who will listen, and it’s been his focus since reporting for the offseason training program April 15.
He hopes the time he’s put in this offseason, along with the work the defense has done getting into some of the nitty gritty aspects of Patricia’s scheme, makes him a more productive player all around.
“I think smart football players do that,” Kennard said of diving deep into the scheme this offseason. “You can kind of rest on your laurels and be like, ‘Ah, I know the defense now.’
“But I think we’re taking the initiative to be like, ‘Alright, what’s the next layer of things? How can we build from here?’ It’s a work in progress every day just trying to get better as a unit and individually.”